Home Cellular science Nanobubbles could treat, prevent current and future strains of SARS-CoV-2: study

Nanobubbles could treat, prevent current and future strains of SARS-CoV-2: study

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Evanston: With the COVID-19 virus mutating and bringing increasingly deadly waves with it, medical discoveries are all humanity depends on to survive and overcome this dark phase of life.

Now, scientists from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have identified natural nanobubbles containing the protein ACE2 (evACE2) in the blood of COVID-19 patients and found that these nanoparticles can block the infection with large strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus in preclinical studies.

The study was published in “Nature Communications”.

evACE2 acts as a decoy in the body and may serve as therapeutics to be developed for the prevention and treatment of current and future strains of SARS-CoV-2 and future coronaviruses, the scientists said. Once developed as a therapeutic product, it can benefit humans as a biological treatment with minimal toxicities.

The study is the first to show that evACE2 proteins are able to fight new SARS-CoV-2 variants with equal or greater efficacy than blocking the original strain. The researchers found that these evACE2 nano-bubbles exist in human blood as a natural antiviral response. The more severe the disease, the higher the levels of evACE2 detected in the patient’s blood.

“Each time a new mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 arises, the original vaccine and therapeutic antibodies may lose potency against the alpha, beta, delta, and newer omicron variants,” said the co-lead author of the study, Dr. Huiping Liu, associate. professor of pharmacology and medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and physician at Northwestern Medicine. “However, the beauty of evACE2 is its superpower to prevent broad strains of coronaviruses, including current SARS-CoV-2 and even future SARS coronaviruses, from infecting humans.”

“Our mouse studies demonstrate the therapeutic potential of evACE2 to prevent or block SARS-CoV-2 infection when delivered to the airways via droplets,” Liu said.

The evACE2 proteins are tiny nanoparticle-sized lipid (fat) bubbles that express the ACE2 protein, like handles that the virus can grab onto. These bubbles acted as decoys to lure the SARS-CoV-2 virus away from the ACE2 protein on the cells, which is how the virus infected the cells. The virus’ spike protein grabbed the handle of evACE2 instead of the cellular ACE2, preventing it from entering the cell. Once captured, the virus would float harmlessly or be cleared by a macrophage immune cell. At this point, he could no longer cause infection.

“The key takeaway from this study is the identification of natural extracellular vesicles in the body that express the ACE2 receptor on their surface and are part of the normal adaptive defense against the viruses that cause COVID-19,” said the co- lead author, Dr. Raghu Kalluri, Chair of Cancer Biology at MD Anderson. “Based on this, we have discovered a way to harness this natural defense as a potential new therapy against this devastating virus.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been prolonged and challenged by an ever-evolving virus, SARS-CoV-2. One of the biggest challenges is the moving target of the pathogenic coronavirus which is constantly evolving into new viral strains (variants) with mutations. These new virus strains exhibited various changes in the viral spike protein with high infection rates and increased breakthroughs due to ineffectiveness of vaccines and resistance to therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

“There remains an urgent need to identify new therapies,” Liu said. “We believe that evACE2 can meet the challenges and fight broad strains of SARS-CoV-2 and future emerging coronaviruses to protect the immunocompromised (at least 2.7% of US adults), unvaccinated (94% in low-income countries and more than 30% in the United States) and even vaccinated against infectious breakthroughs,” he said.

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